Page images

Rash judgments are called prejudices, and so are the fprings of them. This word in common life fignifies an ill opinion which we have conceived of some other person, or some injury done to him. But when we use the word in matters of science, it fignifies a judgment that is formed concerning any person or thing before sufficient examination, and generally we suppose it to mean a false judgment or mistake : at leait, it is an opinion taken up without solid reason for it, or an affent given to a proposition before we have just es vidence of the truth of it, though the thing itself may happen to be true.

Sometimes thefe rafh judgments are called prepoffeffons, whereby is meant, that some particular opinion has pofluffed the mind, and engaged the affent without fufficient search or evidence of the truth of it.

There is a vast variety of these prejudices and prepoffeffions which attend mankind in every age and condition of life; they lay the foundations of many an error, and many an unhappy practice, both in the af. fairs of religion, and in our civil concernments; as well as in matters of learning. It is necessary for a man who pursues truth to inquire into these springs of er. ror, that as far as possible he may rid himself of old prejudices, and watch hourly againft new ones.

The number of them is so great, and they are so ini. terwoven with each other, as well as with the powers of human nature, that it is sometimes hard to diftinguish them apart; yet, for method's sake, we shall rem duce them to these four general heads, (viz.) prejudices arising from things, or from words, from ourselves, or from other persons; and after the description of each prejudice, we hhall propose one or more ways of curing ita


Prejudices arising from Things.. THE first sort of prejudices are those which arise

from the things themselves about which we judge. But here let it be observed that there is nothing in the nature of things that will neceffarily lead us into error, if we do but use our reason aright, and with-hold: our judgment till there appear sufficient evidence of them. But since we are so unhappily prone to take advantage of every doubtful appearance and circumstance of things, to form a wrong judgment and plunge ourselves into mistake, therefore it is proper to confider what there is in the things themselves that may oce cafion our errors.

[ocr errors]

I. The obscurity of some trutlis, and the difficulty of fearching them out, is one occasion of rash and mistaken judgment.

Some truths are difficult, becaufe they lie remote from the first principles of knowledge, and want a long chain of argument to come at them: such are many of the deep things of algebra and geometry, and some of the theorems and problems of most parts of the mathematics. Many things also in natural philosophy are dark and intricate upon this account, because we cannot come at any certain knowledge of them with. out the labour of many and difficult, as well as chargeable experiments.

There are other truths, which have great darkness upon them, because we have no proper means or mediums to come at the knowledge of them. Though in our age we have found out many of the deep things of nature by the assistance of glasses and other instruments; yet we are not hitherto arrived at any sufhcient matters. to discover the Thape of those little particles of matter which distinguish the various fapours, odours, and colours. of bodies ; nor to find what sort of atoms compose liquids or solids, and distinguish wood, minerals metals, glas, stone, &c. There is a darkness also lies upon the actions of the intellectual or angelical world, their manners of subsistence and agency, the power of fpirits to move bodies, and the union of our souls with this animal body of ours, are much unknown to us on this account.

Now in many of these cases, a great part of mana kind is not content to be entirely ignorant; but they

Tather chuse to form rash and hasty judgment, to guess at things without just evidence, to believe something concerning them before they can know them, and thereby they fall into error.

This fort of prejudice, as well as most others, is cured by patience and diligence in inquiry and reasoning, and a suspension of judgment, till we have attained some proper mediums of knowledge, and till we see sufficient evidence of the truth.

II. The appearance of things in a disguise, is another spring of prejudice or rash judgment. The outside of things which first strikes us, is oftentimes different from their inward nature, and we are tempted to judge suddenly according to outward appearances. If a picfure is daubed with many bright and glaring colours, the vulgar eye admires it as an excellent piece; whereas the same person judges very contemptuously of some admirable design sketched out only with a black pencil on a coarse paper, though by the hand of Raphael. So the scholar (pies the name of a new book in public news-papers, he is charmed with the title, he purchases, he reads with huge expectations, and finds it all trash and impertinence : this is a prejudice derived from the appearance: we are too ready to judge that volume valuable which had so good a frontispiece. The large headof encomiums and swelling words of assurance that are bestowed on quack-medicines in public advertisements tempt many a reader to judge them infallible, and to use the pills or the plaister with vast hope, and frequent disappointment.

We are attempted to form our judgment of persons as well as things by these outward appearances. Where there is wealth, equipage and splendor we are ready to call that man happy, but we see not the vexing disquietudes of his soul: and when we spy a perion in ragged garments, we form a despicable opinion of him too suddenly : we can hardly think him either happy or wise, our judgment is so strangely biaffed by outward and sensible things. It was through the power of this prejudice that the Jews rejected our blessed Saviour : they could not suffer themselves to believe that the man

who appeared as the son of a carpenter, was also the fon of God. And because St. Paul was of a little sta. ture, à mean prefence, and his voice contemptible, some of the Corinthians were tempted to doubt whether he was inspired or no. • This prejudice is cured by a longer acquaintance with the world, and a just obfervation that things are fometimes better and sometimes worse than they ap. pear to be. We ought therefore to restrain our exceflive forwardness to form our opinion of persons or things before we have opportunity to search into them more perfectly. Remember that à grey beard does not make a philosopher; all is not gold that glisters; and a rough diamond may be worth an immense sum.

III. A mixture of different qualities in the fame thing, is another temptation to judge amiss. We are ready to be carried away by that quality which strikes the first or the strongeft impressions upon us, and we judge of the whole object according to that quality, regardJess of all the rest : or sometimes we colour over all the other qualities with that one tincture, whether it be bad or good.

When we have just reason to admire a man for his virtues, we are sometimes inclined not only to neglect his weakneffes, but even to put a good colour upon them, and to think them amiable. When we read a book that has many excellent truths in it, and divine sentiments, we are tempted to approve not only that whole book, but even all the writings of that author. When a poet, an orator, or a painter, has performed admirably in several illustrious pieces, we sometimes also admire his very errors, .we mistake his blunders for beauties, and so ignorantly fond as to copy after them.

It is this prejudice that has rendered so many great scholars perfect bigots, and inclined them to detend Homer or Horace, Livy or Cicero, in all their mistakes, and vindicate all the follies of their favourite author. It is this that tempts some great writers to support the sayings of almost all the ancient fathers of the church, and admire them in their very reveries.

On the other hand, if an author has profered here. tical sentiments in religion, we throw our scorn upon every thing he writes, we despise even his critical or mathematical learning, and will hardly allow him common sense. If a poem has some blemishes in it, there is a set of false critics who decry it universally, and will allow no beauties there.

This sort of prejudice is relieved by learning to distinguish things well, and not to judge in the lump. There is scarce any thing in the world of nature or art, in the world of morality or religion, that is perfectly uniform. There is a mixture of wisdom and folly, vice and virtue, good and evil, both in men and things. We should remember that some persons have great wit, and little judgment; others are judicious, but not witty. Some are good humoured without compliment ; others have all the formalities of complaisance, but no good humour. We ought to know that one man may be vicious and learned, while another has virtue withour learning. That many a man thinks admirably well who has a poor utterance ; while others have a charming manner of speech, but their thoughts are trilling and impertinent. Some are good neighbours, and courteous and charitable toward men, who have no piety toward God; others are truly religious, but of morose natural tempers. Some excellent sayings are found in very silly books, and some filly thoughts appear in books of value. We should neither praise nor dispraise by wholesale, but separate the good from the evil, and judge of them apart ; the accuracy of a good judgment conlists much in making such distinctions.

Yet let it be noted too, that in common discourse we usually denominate persons and things according to the major part of their character. He is to be called a wise man who has but few follies : he is a good philofopher who knows much of nature, and for the most part reasons well in matters of human science : and that book should be esteemed well written, which has much more of good sense in it than it has of impertinence.

IV. Though a thing be uniform in its own nature, yet the different lights in which it may be placed, and i he different views in which it appears to us, will be

« PreviousContinue »